Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

A smart little girl survives her traumatic yet hilarious childhood

My reading this week detoured into memoir, although a memoir that was (deliberately so )constructed like a novel. The fact that it is “true” adds to its gripping nature.   It seems like it's a collection of hilarious anecdotes about little Mary Karr and her colorful family, especially her hot ticket crazy mother and tough working class father and ever watchful big sister, interspersed with horrifying tales of neglect, including child rape. The plot is trying to figure out why the mother acts like she does.  And then, at the end, we find out, and everything makes more sense.

“The Liar’s Club” is the Ur-memoir, written in 1995, causing a tsunami of memoirs, , writers applying literary techniques such as dialogue, metaphor and characterization, to their factually accurate.. Ideally, the prose needs to be first class and the life history needs to be unique and shocking, in order get people to keep reading.  That is certainly the case with The Liars's Club.

There were many details so insane they had to be true, such as the family eating dinner on the gigantic bed every night. It’s also a story about Texas, where larger than life things happen and nobody blinks an eye. And a place where people tell stories in a vivid homespun deliberately crude way.  Her parents are really not cut out to be attentive parents, though there is a lot of love in the family. I thought the high point of happiness in the book was the little girls' sitting around the campfire eating fish with their dad.

It starts off with one mystery and ends with the happy solution to a second underlying mystery. This is a survivor’s story and therefore more powerful. 

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